‘What distinguishes many of the poets in this anthology are the varying poetic ways in which they explore the nature of human suffering. ‘ How far do you agree? You should include an examination of The Wife of the Usher’s Well and at least two other poems that cover two sections. The Wife of the Usher’s Well tells the story of a mother who sends her three sons out to sea, which consequently results in their death. The depth of her grief returns them home, for one evening only, leaving once ‘the cock he hadna crawed but once’.
The poem is an example of a traditional ballad, where the narrator, who tells the story in twelve ballad stanzas, speaks in a colloquial dialect and the dialogue has a personal feel, which creates a sense of close communication with the audience. The poem follows the traditional ballad convention of an abrupt opening, in which the reader is immediately plunged directly into the plot with no description or explanation. The poem holds both a passionate and dramatic content, which really helps the audience to empathise with the wife.
The poem is divided into three sections: the first four stanzas, which describe the sons’ death; the second four stanzas, which describe their return and the final four stanzas, which describe the sons’ departure. These last four verses in particular have a desolate tone, allowing the audience to reflect on twice the amount of grief the wife has to endure compared to the beginning of the poem; not only have the sons died, but they have also left suddenly after visiting her one last time.
From the outset, the poem’s focal point can immediately be identified as personal suffering, amongst other themes such as the supernatural, life and death. There is no economy of language; the poet describing the sons’ excellence in order for the audience to fully understand the magnitude of her loss. The tone of the poem dramatically changes between the first and second stanza.
The second stanza informs the audience that after a week, the sons are reported missing. The transition from a ‘wealthy wife’ to a ‘carlin wife’ really emphasises that her life was absolutely devastated after her sons’ tragic death. The poet uses the third stanza to make the audience fully aware that the sons are presumed dead after the third of week of being missing, ensuring that the remaining nine stanzas are perceived as containing supernatural elements.
In addition, the rhythm of the poem from the second stanza onwards has an effect on the reader, with the repetitive phrase ‘her sons’, which really emphasises the love she felt for them and reinforces the depth of her loss and grief. The constant repetition throughout the poem, ‘they hadna been a week from her’, parallels the wife’s constant grief; with the more time that goes by, the less hope she has that her sons are still alive.
By the eighth stanza, the repetition of the word ‘And’ at the beginning of each sentence indicates a sense of inevitability that the sons will leave her once more, after their one final visit. As the poem progresses, we see that the language becomes more and more simple. This, in addition to the constant simplicity of the structure and rhyming scheme, contributes to the shocking impact of the sons’ exit, leaving their mother to go through the grief of losing them once more.